Samuel and Oliver stood at the fork in the road, uncertain.
“I think it’s here, to the right.”
“I’m not sure that’s the way, Sam.”
“Is it to the left then, do you think?”
Oliver put an index finger to his lips, free hand on his hip. His head cocked to one side in consideration. “I didn’t say it was left, I just said that I wasn’t sure that it was right.”
“So, you’re saying you don’t know which is the way?”
“No, Sam, I’m simply saying that I’m not certain that right is the way. I’m not advocating left or right.”
“If you’re not advocating left or right then what you’re saying is that you don’t know the way.”
Again, Oliver’s arms were deployed to hips, this time in bubbling righteousness. “No, Sam. You know perfectly well what I’m saying: I – am – not – sure – about – taking – the – right - fork.” Each word spelled out with deliberation.
Sam rolled his eyes and held out his hands skyward to an imagined, omnipotent watcher, then let the fall and slap onto his thighs. He glanced over at Oliver, standing there with his arms folded, fingers strumming against his upper arms, chin high, lips pursed.
Oliver was the first to break the silent stand-off. “Take the right then, seeing as you seem so sure.”
“But you said…”
Oliver faux-gasped, aping exasperation, “I didn’t!”
Sam strode three wilful steps towards the right fork, stopped for a fraction of a second and took three more strides before turning back to Oliver who hadn’t moved at all.
“You’ve not moved. You do know this isn’t the right way!”
“I’m not sure that that is the right way.”
“Are you more sure of the left fork?”
Oliver shrugged his shoulders unhelpfully with impatience, or offence, or belligerence, Sam couldn’t tell.
“Why don’t you decide, Olly? We have time to retrace our steps if it’s the wrong fork. Which is it to be, left or right?”
Oliver’s hands returned to his hips and he narrowed his eyes in close study of the fork in the road. “Hmm… The left is…I can’t be sure of the left. We should wait until someone passes by. We could ask.”
Sam weighed up waiting for a stranger’s guidance against opting left or right and having to return to the fork and begin again. “What if no one comes?”
“Someone is bound to come; it’s a road.”
“No one has come so far.”
Oliver thought about that fact. He’d not noticed until Sam had said it. ‘It’s a road; someone’s bound to come.”
For an age, they stood, hands in pockets looking along the two roads leading from the fork. Occasionally, they looked back along the way they had come. A few paces forward, a few paces back, craning their necks in silence to see any potential other. They took to kicking loose stones from the road, whipping them up with their shoes and knocking them onto the verge. Oliver rolled a cigarette; Sam tied and re-tied his shoe laces.
“How long shall we wait?”
“I don’t know, Ollie. It was you who said that someone would pass by.”
“Well, it was you who said it was the right fork!”
“Well, it might be!”
“Well, someone might pass by!”
They each stomped off a few meters in different directions, craning again.
They returned to the fork. Hands in pockets, shoulders hunched.
“I think it’s here, to the right.”
“I’m not sure that’s right, Sam.”
Both men sighed. Both men shrugged. Time ticked on.
Oliver hissed with sudden urgency. “I think I hear steps!”
They listened, breaths held, bodies frozen.
“Helllooo! Is anyone there? We’re lost!”
Sam couldn’t stop the derision. “We’re not lost! Why would you say that? We - are - not – lost!”
“I am trying to get their attention, Sam!”
Oliver embarked upon a series of youhoos and hallloas, but there were no replies. The quiet returned and the men strained their ears to hear any elusive steps they may have missed. Birds chirped. Wind whistled.
Sam ventured, “What if we go back?”
“But we might miss someone.”
“Let’s just choose a road, then. Left or right?”
“I think we should wait. Someone will pass by and then we’ll know.”
Sam sighed. Oliver craned his neck. Birds chirped. Wind whistled.
Pam Knapp lives in the UK’s rolling countryside of the Sussex Downs, close enough to London to feel the heat, far enough away to avoid being burnt. Optimism is her greatest asset. Her writing can be found in Dreich Magazine, Green Ink Poetry, Owl Hollow Press, Lucent Dreaming, amongst others. Twitter: @Pamcountonwords